Wednesday, February 09, 2011

One Man and His Tin Can


 I found myself watching a strange programme on BBC Two this week called One Man and His Camper Van, which follows Martin Dorey chomping his way around the UK in a moving metal tent.

Firstly who is Martin Dorey? According to a quick scan of the web, he is a “foodie” and is said to also enjoy surfing, writing, shrimping and camper van-ing. He has also had a book called The Camper Van Cookbook published, which would explain why this concept has made it onto TV.

If it is simple enough to get a cook book published - so long as it has a niche – then I may as well press ahead with my concept for The Bus Top Deck Cook Book, where I can teach readers how to cook sumptuous dishes whilst commuting on the top deck of the bus.

Foodie for Thought

Now the term “foodie” sets alarm bells ringing for me, as it’s similar to saying “I’m not a chef, I’m a foodie”, which in itself is similar to saying “I’m not a policeman, I’m a justice instructor” – or a PCSO. It also conjures up images of other smug “foodies” like Valentine Warner or Willie Harcourt-Cooze, who can eat roast peacock as casually as you like, whilst the rest of us plebs sit at home wondering where one goes to buy a plucked and gutted peacock on our salary. In other words, my perception of a foodie is of someone who will wank off over expensive pretentious food.

It’s fair to say from viewing OMAHC that Dorey as a cook is also not in the same league as other roving chefs like Rick Stein, and the late great Keith Floyd who inject much more dynamism and excitement over interesting food into their work.

Eat, Pray, Camp

Anyway moving along, here is the description of the programme from the production company behind it:

“Over one glorious summer, camper van lover and passionate foodie Martin Dorey journeys around Britain on the ultimate escapist adventure - celebrating the freedom of camper van living.”

Now this description already sounds like a rejected premise for a low budget Eat, Pray, Love (and the less said about what I think of that the better) or a similarly vapid traveller story, where the protagonist “finds themself”. Not that I have a problem with travellers writing about their epic times (I’ve done so myself) although without the self indulgent smugness that so often follows. Combining that with the foodie element makes for a critical mass of self-infatuation.

I’d say the biggest criticism that can be angled at One Man and His Camper Van is that it is trying to crowbar itself into a space in the TV world that is already heavily saturated. You cannot look at TV listings now without finding a cookery related programme, although here you see a show that tries to sneak round this by adding an element of escapism and travel show flair. This does save OMAHC from being outright bad, but this leads to other problems.

Britain From A Smug (Git)

First of all the British Tourist council inspired travel element of the show does what episodes of the excellent Coast and Britain From Above manage to do an awful lot better. Also the concept feels too bloated, as if it’s trying to be everything to everyone.

The travel element also leads to Dorey making hyperbolic comments such as that the Devonshire coastline offers “the best view in the world”. Now I’m sorry, but that is bollocks.

I can say without exaggeration that the Devon coast does not offer the “worlds best view”. Don’t get me wrong, I love Britain and I think that it is a country of outstanding beauty (so long as you don’t ever visit Elephant and Castle or Erith) but there are much MUCH better views to be seen out there. Dorey’s comments are nothing more than exaggerated subjectivity.

Where's the Tin Opener?

Now it’s fair to say that One Man and His Campervan is a nice idea. I have been camping in a campervan myself many times and it is actually quite refreshing to see a cookbook catering to the limitations of cooking in the confines of a camper.

Unfortunately though, I still don’t see why something so specialized needs to exist anyway. About the only thing you can’t cook very well in a campervan oven is something incredibly awkward to cook anyway, like a suckling pig or a soufflé. When you go camping you don’t expect haute cuisine. Quite often you find that dining exclusively on pasta and tomato sauce is perfectly acceptable when out in the wilderness, because you are sticking two fingers up to nature whilst enjoying home comforts and not putting in too much effort.

Then again, if you want a bit of fanciful escapism and can look past the ditzy unthinking swaggering of the host, then One Man and his Camper Van could be just the thing for you.

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